What’s next for Ukraine-Russia relations?

What’s next for Russia-Ukraine conflict, do you think that what’s is going on in Azov Sea is somehow a new phase, or not and why? Read few comments.

Ryhor NizhnikauSenior Research Fellow, EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia Research Programme, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

The conflict is not going into a new phase at least until Ukraine’s elects its new Parliament. Russia is unwilling to engage into the direct military conflict with Ukraine. One of its key goals is to help the pro-Russian forces to make a political comeback in the Verkhovna Rada elections in 2019. Any serious escalation with numerous casualties would jeopardize this plan.

Russia simply continues to exert pressure on Ukraine’s weak spots. Tension in the Azov Sea has been building up for half a year and Moscow will continue to use the Azov Sea as one of the means to destabilize the situation in the South-East, especially Mariupol. This strategy helps to remind the local elites of Moscow’s stick and push even more the people in this part of the country to vote for the (pro-Russian) parties, which promise to end the conflict with Moscow.

Andrei KolesnikovSenior Associate, Chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program, Carnegie Moscow Center

The honest answer is: I don’t know and nobody knows.  It’s a shock for the infantile mass consciousness, which playing war games, victorious, distanced, not-bloody all the time making Russia great again. Not sure, that that society is ready to accept the idea of the real mobilization and real war.

Marek MenkiszakHead, Russian Department, Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW)

So, in short I don’t expect any major escalation between Russia and Ukraine. Kerch strait incident was meant to be political and military demonstration by both sides. Both sides were drawing some benefits out or that. In Ukraine Poroshenko declared marshal law, which is political demonstration for internal consumption rather than any effective security measure against Russia. He tries to boost his (very low) popularity before incoming presidential elections (March 31st). Also successfully rallying leading western states and organisations around Ukraine and against Russia, which was largely responsible for over-escalating the incident.

Also Russia however is trying to draw some benefits by deterring Ukraine, putting political and economic costs on it, accusing Ukraine of deliberate provocation and rallying Russian public opinion around Kremlin (with Putin’s rating falling systemically).

Both sides could be interested in limited, local escalation of conflict, mostly for internal political purposes. Yet for Ukraine and especially for Russia there is no interest in seeking major escalation. It would not only damage its attempts to return to business as usual with major European partners, but also could undermine politically those forces in Ukraine who are seen by Moscow as “pragmatic” and ready to make some deals with Russia (notably Tymoshenko and her party).  Therefore no such major escalation is expected before series of elections ends in Ukraine (presidential elections in March and parliamentary elections in October), unless Kiev decides for some reason to provoke it.

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